Elaine Sears-Dennehy
(Lady Elaina Howys of Morningthorpe)

Massachusetts, USA
(East Kingdom, Barony of Smoking Rocks)


A Florentine Outfit in the Style
 of Pisa, 1560s

(Highlighted/bordered images are click-able for enlarging)

Elaine Says....


This is the second Italian Gown I have made. My first was a reconstruction of the Lucrezia Panciatrichi Red Gown from 1530's. I started this gown last spring for several reasons. 1) To create a more authentic gown in cut, construction and look. 2) To create a gown to contrast the style of my last gown, a 1530 gown. These two gowns were presented together at K&Q A&S competition in February 2013. 3) To present at our Barony's Tailor Guild meeting as my Master Work. In our Barony we started Tailor's Guild in 2007. The purpose was to make period garb and share our knowledge with each other. When I presented my Gown on February 23, 2013, I became our Guild's first Master.

1560s Style Gown

I chose to make a Gown patterned after the "Pisa Gown". This extant gown is on display at the Museo di Palazzo Reale in Pisa Italy. It is believed to either have belonged to Eleanora de Toledo, wife of Cosimo I De' Medici, or made for one of her Ladies in Waiting. Eleanora de Toledo set the fashion standards of the day in the city state of Florence Italy.

This Ensemble is comprised of: Camicia, Partlet, Gown, Farthingale, Padded farthingale skirt, and Corset.

Support - Farthingale, padded farthingale skirt, and corset

I had previously made a farthingale to wear with my English Tudor gowns. I find the farthingale to be cooler to wear then layers of skirts. The Spanish farthingale had been in use since the 1400's, but Italian women had resisted its use, preferring the stiffened petticoat to support their skirts. But by the 1550's there are entries in Eleanora's 'Guardaroba' for the Farthingale, mainly for her daughters. So there is a precedence for such use in this time period in Italy.

There was one issue I had using my farthingale, which had never occurred before, the hoops showed when worn under the gown. I believe the weight of the cotton velvet laid against the ribs. With my English Tudor gown, there is an underskirt which acts to hold the gown skirt away from the ribs. To correct this problem I made a padded skirt for the Farthingale. I used the same pattern as the farthingale (from Margo Anderson Historic Patterns) cutting the pattern one inches wider at each seam. I used commercial Quilting double sided padding, and enclosed the bottom edge with Satin Blanket binding. Ta-da! A rib-less farthingale for my farthingale.

The use of the corset is also not of Italian origin. I had made this corset many years ago (it still fits fine). I decided to support this gown using my corset. First I wanted the challenge of fitting this gown over a corset. Second, I believed I would acquire the same shaping and support without the use of a petticoat. Eleanora had several corsets or stays in her 'Guardaroba', but these were not boned corsets as I am wearing. They were used mainly for warmth. Gown support was in the petticoat for which cardboard sections were inserted. I felt that would be too hot to wear both as the gown was being made of cotton velvet.


This camicia is made of lightweight linen. The camicia is the first layer and is worn next to the body. My camicia is based on the pattern from Cut my Cote by Dorothy Burnham and detailed on the Realm of Venus site. It has a full gathered body, square neck, and extra long, 12 additional inches in length, sleeves. The extra length is so they can be poofed thru the Gown's Paned sleeves.

The neckline of Italian camicie were decorated with embroidery, reticella, or pulled thread work. In Moda a Firenze there are many portraits showing these necklines peeking out from under the partlets. The blackwork I embroidered for this camicia is a pattern from: Bands from Hans Hofer's 'New Formbuch'len', Augsberg 1545, lots 18 charted and plotted for reversible stitching by Linn R Skinner. "Hofer's book falls into a group of early design books, those printed using woodcuts. They were books of illustration not instructions."

I did the embroidery on 32 even weave linen using double strand black silk thread. I purposely did the embroidery as a separate band so It could be removed for cleaning. 



Partlets are like the frosting on the cake. Many of Eleanora de Toledo's partlets were nets made from gold thread, also in silver, or black or brown silk, which only covered her shoulders. Partlets "reached as far as the neck, often provided with collar". Partlets were made by the veil makers using wonderful sheer materials. My Partlet is made of material found in a discount loft at Lorraine Fabric. It is a sheer stiff cotton material. The machine embroidery on this fabric is done in white chain stitch, for the stems, with pink satin stitch flowers. I could not have done better myself. I wanted a sheer material so the black-work would show thru. Next I needed a look for the parlet. This I found in my favorite book Moda a Firenze. I loved the way it framed the face and the ruffles. This was something I could make.

I needed to create the standing collar. The cotton was not sturdy or stiff enough to stand on its own, and when the trim was applied it would collapse. I needed a material that was light but firm. Being a sometimes hat maker, I used that knowledge and made a layer of wired buckram which was inserted into the collar. The collar will now stand on its own. The ruffle trim was found in JoAnn's, and pearls and pink beads were added. 


I am breaking the Gown down to: Bodice, Skirt, Sleeves.

The classic shape of the bodice was a low square neckline with side closing. The bodice was lined with padded felt and had a double layer of fabric. I take the double layer of fabric to mean the lining layer and inter lining.

The outer layer is of cotton velvet, trimmed with a rayon rim. This "Ropa" trim waited a long time in my stash for a final home, and is now no longer available. The bodice is padded using a heavy weight white cotton duck or broadcloth material. I used this material for its strength and to support boning channels. I am using a pattern produced by Margo Anderson Patterns, The Elizabethan Lady. I only needed to make minor changes to adapt this pattern to Italian. I continue to notice the similarities of Italian gowns to English Gowns of this time period. 

One major change I made to this bodice was the closure. Observing the placement of the trim on the extant gown, I determined I could make this a front closing Bodice. The original gown is side closure. From the 1560's on there are many portraits with ladies wearing front closure gowns. The Bodice is closed with 20 sets of hooks and eyes. Unlike the Hook and eyes arrangement on Eleanora de Toledo's Stays, where the hooks are all on one side, I have alternated the side of the hooks. I found from experience this prevents a bodice from independently unhooking itself. 

To construct the bodice I first needed to sew on the trim. Next on the interlining I made boning channel using single width bias tape. The boning itself is extra heavy duty electrical ties. The interlining was then flat lined to the lining material so that the boning channel were enclosed. The channel sewing marks do not show on the outside of either the cotton velvet or lining material. Flat lining these two layers make the lining much more stable to work with. The edges of the outer velvet material were piped in a light rose color, then lining was sewed in place and bodice turned. One result of my piping the edges was the measurement of the bodice. It actually made the bodice larger. I placed the piping along the edge, did not recess it to be at the 1/2 inch mark. This made the piping straight, but out 1/4 inch. So the whole bodice is larger. In the end this worked out, as I made a very full camicia which took up the extra space. Measure, measure and figure, it all happens at the cutting board. Across the bottom of the bodice I turned the edges of velvet and lining towards each other and whip stitched the edge together.

Sleeves and Baragoni 

The detached sleeves with their elaborate decorations and intricate baragoni that could reveal other sleeves beneath, be slashed or paned, have material puffed thru, etc. This is the area where the tailor/seamstress can create.

I always wanted to create paned sleeves with the camicia puffed thru and have large puffed out baragoni or shoulders. I guess it was the childhood influences from Walt Disney's Snow White and Cinderella cartoons. But to create these sleeves was the most work I did on this Gown. 

The long sleeve panes are constructed of three layers. The velvet outer, white duck, and rose lining. The sleeve has the same piping. Down the center of each pane is a matching but smaller version of the bodice trim. After constructing the three panes, I connected them with 9 rows of silver buttons. That was the easy part.

The baragoni - sleeve top - is constructed of many layers. The inside puff area is made of two layers of fabric with a stuffing of netting. I used a white silky material for the outside to show under, and the heavy duck for the base. The puffed area is covered by five graduated sized panes. These panes assembled the same way as the long under panes, and were then sewn over the puff. The pink lining material was used to cover all the seams. Then the bottom edge of the puff was sewn to a trimmed band . The Long panes were then hand sewn behind the baragoni, the two whip stitched together at the top.

The completed sleeves are tied to the gown using dark rose silk ribbons with silver aglet ends. I set 5 lacing rings into the gown's shoulder. I was surprised at the weight of these sleeves. One thing I would change next time would be to remove the inner heavy layer to the long panes. It is not necessary, make the sleeves look too heavy when worn. Also again, the piping made the sleeves wider. After pulling the camicia through, the look is OK.


The Skirt for this dress has four straight panels, and four gore panel, totalling 8 1/2 yards. These panels were then gathered into one inch cartridge pleats. To stiffen the Pleat tops I added a band of the stiff cotton duck material to the top two inches. I then attached the pleats directly to the bodice as was done in the period.


The story of the skirt is all about the hem. This is seen not only in the Pisa gown, but was noted by Janet Arnold in her description of Eleanora's funeral dress. The purpose of this tuck has been a long debated by conservators and historian alike. Many theories have been put forward for the reason, such as: 1) Extra length for growth, 2) for pregnancy 3) worn with different shoes e.g. Italian slippers (platforms), or as added structure for the hem (to it keep away from the legs). This tuck is said to be of Spanish origin and can be seen on many Spanish gowns as single and multiple tuck bands. In Italy it can be seen as early as the 1517 painting by Lorenzo Lotto, such as Susanna and the Elders. Close examination of the Pisa Dress picture shows that this tuck begins and ends several inches from the center front, so it does not affect the straight line of the trim.

To create the tuck, I added one inch to the length of the gown. This was all the extra material I was able to give the skirt panels. I tapered the center front bottom hem line to adjust for the gradual taper needed for beginning of the tuck. The hem of this gown is lined using cotton black hem bias tape. In period the hem were interlined with wool felt, and covered with satin. I choose not to use the felt, and replaced the satin with the bias hem tape. I then sewed the trim in place, and created the tuck above. To keep the tuck from pulling out, I hand stitched the pleat on the wrong side, taking a tacking stitch under and through the pleats every inch.


I am overall pleased with the Gown. I had hoped that I would be able to dress myself in this gown by doing a front closure. But the weight of the dress, and sleeves design require my dresser, the ever patient Lord Robert Howys of Morningthorpe, to accompany me. 






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2001 - 2013 Anabella Wake (Known in the SCA as Bella Lucia da Verona) I hold copyright on all information on these pages, and on all images of clothing/costume that I have made. You are allowed to make one facsimile copy for your own use provided that this notice is included on each page. Please ask permission to copy, disseminate and/or distribute my work - I would like to know when and how you are finding this information of use.